Does IEW’s Student Writing Intensive A have to be completed prior to IEW’s Medieval-History-Based Writing?

Dear Carrie

Does my son need to do the IEW Level A Course before he does Resurrection to Reformation’s IEW Medieval course?

My son has severe dyslexia, and our primary focus has been reading. Right now, he dictates his Creation to Christ written narrations to me, and I write them. However, he’ll be 12 next year, and he needs more writing instruction. I know IEW’s Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons are included with Resurrection to Reformation. He’d really enjoy the history connection, but I’m not sure he’ll be ready for it. Does this program require prior writing instruction? He is a motivated writer and is hard on himself. Nothing he writes for fun measures up to his expectations. I think he’s comparing his writing to authors’ writing he reads in all of those awesome living books! I’m wondering if Medieval writing lessons requires a prior writing curriculum, or if it will teach writing as a stand-alone? Do I need to do the Level A course from IEW first before doing the Medieval lessons?


“Ms. Please Help Me Know If My Son Needs to do the IEW Level A Course Before the IEW Medieval Course”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Know If My Son Needs to do the IEW Level A Course Before the IEW Medieval Course,”

I’m thinking that you’re asking whether your son needs to complete IEW’s Student Writing Intensive A prior to beginning Medieval-History-Based Writing. Your son actually does not need need to do IEW’s SWI-A first, as the instruction in Medieval History-Based Writing is so well-done that no prior IEW experience is necessary. I had one son who had done IEW- SWI A and B prior to Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, and another son who had no prior IEW experience when coming to Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Both did equally well with the program (and my husband taught the lessons to my second son and did well even though both father and son had no prior IEW experience)! I also much prefer Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons to IEW-SWI.

There are two levels of instruction offered within Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons (Level A and Level B). Both are scheduled in the Heart of Dakota guide. As long as your son sticks to the Level A schedule, he will be fine. We would also encourage you to follow the Medieval Writing plans the way they are scheduled within Heart of Dakota, as we spread out the writing sessions to keep them more manageable, and we also omit several of the writing units that are either covered in Rod and Staff or are covered in other ways through Heart of Dakota.   The Heart of Dakota schedule also allows for some great connections between the history and writing portions of the plans!





Should I add the extension books to change up the units we’re repeating?

Dear Carrie

Should I add the extension books to change up the units we’re repeating?

Last year, we started Bigger Hearts with my 2nd grader. Though we enjoyed it, I ended up having some unexpected life challenges, and we set it aside for a textbook/workbook approach. I feel, like I did last year, that God has led our family to Heart of Dakota. I prayerfully want to make this work. Although my son was doing fine with Bigger for 2nd grade, I feel like it would still be a good fit for him. Plus, I am familiar with it, so it’s not like I’d be trying to learn something new. So, I was considering buying the Extension books to read along during the units he already covered. He will only be in 3rd grade though. Will they be okay as read alouds? (NOT independent reading.) Just looking for a way to repeat those units (1-15) and change it up a bit. What do you think?


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Add the Extension Books for the Units I’m Repeating”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Add the Extension Books for the Units I’m Repeating,”

If you made it partway through Bigger Hearts last year, I would be inclined to just pick Bigger up where you left off and go forward from there with it as written. For a third grader, I wouldn’t add the Extension books as a general rule, but would instead encourage you to do the Storytime books (either boy, girl, or classic set). The skills in the Storytime box are really important, and the books in the Storytime sets were chosen for their read-aloud quality.

The Extension books were intended to be read independently by the child and were chosen to extend the study of American history for an older learner. So, the Extension book readings will be much longer as read-alouds, as they were not intended for that purpose. If you love to read aloud, you can certainly read aloud some of the Extension titles. However, we wouldn’t want that to replace the very needed Storytime read-aloud sessions and skills.


My kids are loving the history projects too much! Help!

Dear Carrie

How can I better manage the time we spend on history projects? My kids are actually loving them a little too much!

I am teaching two Heart of Dakota guides. My kids are enjoying their homeschool days so much, especially the history projects. In fact, I think my kids are actually enjoying the projects a little TOO much. Here’s my question: If you run multiple guides with multiple history projects in a day, do you do everything? If my daughter has a project in her guide, and my son has a project in his guide, I find everyone wants to do everything. If I let them do a project together, it takes so long that the other project in the other guide doesn’t get done. Since the history projects are so intertwined with what they are learning, I hate to skip things. I don’t want to douse their enthusiasm, but I don’t want them skipping things either. What would you advise? Moving history projects to the weekend? Or to the evening? Help!


“Ms. Please Help Me Manage the Time We Spend on History Projects”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Manage the Time We Spend on History Projects,”

One thing we’ve found through the years we’ve had of running four different full-speed guides at our house is that when we shift things off to the weekend or to a free day, they often get overlooked. The more guides we’ve added to our plate the more we’ve found the need to actually do the history project on the day in which it is scheduled, otherwise it is nearly impossible to remember who has what to do later (and by the time we get to the weekend no one can really remember why we’re doing the history project or what possible connection it had to the text anymore).

Older students can do the history projects last in the day, so they can take as long as they want to complete them.

So, what we do to compensate for history projects that may go longer is to have our older kiddos do the project time and science time last in the day for the child to take as long as he/she wishes to complete. This also allows any younger family members who are done with their school to join in (if it is something the older child doesn’t mind having youngers join in to do).

Younger students can do the history projects before a scheduled free time.

For our younger kiddos, we scheduled their LHTH/LHFHG/Beyond/Bigger history projects at a time when they had free time afterwards. For example, our little guy in LHFHG had an educational DVD scheduled after his project time. If his project time went longer, then we just moved the DVD to the afternoon. Other kiddos of ours had computer scheduled after project time, which could also be moved later in the day.

Scheduled breaks and free time can help with managing history projects as well. 

One other thing we’ve done is to have a several hour break after lunch. Then, when we come back from the break, our older kiddos can jump in and do their project/science work (and I’m more up for it because we’ve had a chance to regroup and have some time off). Our younger kiddos also have free time in the afternoon, where we can shift any needed work from the morning during that time if needed.

Anyway, just a few more ideas to ponder as you find what works for you!


Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

Dear Carrie

Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

In January we’ll start our new school year. I’ll have a ten year-old daughter and an almost eight year-old son. We’ve used Heart of Dakota (HOD), from preschool through Preparing Hearts. I’ve had no problem timewise doing two guides, especially since my daughter is getting more independent. However, I think I’d like to combine the two for history and science. Honestly, my son’s been secretly listening to his older sister’s books for years! I REALLY want to stick with HOD! So, if I combined my 2nd and 4th graders in Creation to Christ (CTC) for history and science ONLY, how would I do it? How would I modify written work, notebooking assignments, etc.? His handwriting is NOT great. I go back and forth on this. I honestly am okay keeping them uncombined if you think that’s better. Combining has been smooth sailing. Maybe I shouldn’t rock the boat with uncombining!


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining,”

Combining and uncombining can work within Heart of Dakota (HOD). However, the target age ranges of the guides really do matter. One thing I think all of us go through as our kiddos are getting older and are gaining independence is that our momma’s heart longs to stay with our oldest and keep on learning and sharing with that child. (The subject matter just gets so interesting that we don’t want to allow that child to head off without us!) Yet, as our children mature it is so important to allow them to be more mature and to treat them in that manner without having little ears listening in to all of the more grown-up topics and heart issues that come along with that maturity.

Our littler ones deserve the same focused attention our older ones received.

It is also so important to give our littler ones the same focused attention that our older ones received, and having an older one moving into the guides from CTC on up allow us to do just that! This is because as our older ones take over more of their own readings, we have more time to spend with just our little ones… bonding and making individual memories with them too.

Our guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age of children, both in ability and maturity.

You will find this to be very true as you head into CTC on up, as we definitely wrote these guides with the target age range on the guide in mind and we meant to let our kiddos head off more on their own. This means that we’re not writing with an eye toward kiddos beneath the age range, but instead are really targeting the range of ages on the guide both in ability and in maturity. This makes our guides really fit a narrower age range well. It also makes the guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age that the child is in at that time.

Combining a young child beneath the target age range of a guide  with an older child impacts reading skills and maturity.

So, if you choose to have a young one (beneath the target age range of the guide) combined with an older one just listen in, you’ll find over time that you’re having to read aloud material we never planned to be read aloud (simply to keep your young one in the loop). You’ll also be exposing your child to content that we never intended for a child beneath the age range of the guide to be hearing, simply due to the maturity needed to handle the subject matter in the guide.

The spiritual maturity and depth of faith of a child should also be considered when contemplating combining.

Another thing to ponder when looking at combining is how much spiritual maturity and depth of faith a child should have before being exposed to the content in each guide. In my mind, it is very important for a child to have an excellent foundation in the Bible and in what he/she believes before heading into anything involving ancient history and the Reformation! This means that kiddos beneath the age range of a guide will also not have the spiritual maturity we are looking for them to have in place prior to moving into the historical time period in the guide. This is really something that easily gets overlooked in placement but that makes a huge difference in a child’s reaction and understanding of many difficult times in history!

When a younger child ‘listens in’ to an older child’s guide, much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain is lost.

So, while I can understand your thoughts on combining your kiddos to have unity in your history study, I also want to encourage you that listening in to an older child’s guide leaves out much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain from using a particular guide. As an example for you to ponder from my own experience, I’ll share that my oldest son did Sonlight Core 1 as a first grader. As a part of that core, he was to listen to A Child’s History of the World. My oldest read at age four. He was able to read huge classic chapter books off his dad’s shelf (like the unabridged copy of Moby Dick) before he was turning seven. Of course, I took this book away midway through and told him Daddy’s shelf was off-limits! But, my oldest son was just an amazing reader!

As subject matter got harder, more violent, and more mature, I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this , “should” he?

So, as we journeyed through grade 1 of Sonlight, he read more and more of A Child’s History of the World himself. He had a great understanding of the world and could really comprehend the readings. So, we kept on going. As a couple of years passed with Sonlight, however, I realized that the subject matter just kept getting harder, more violent, and more mature. I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this type of more mature material, whether he really “should” read that type of material.

Maturity plays a huge role in how much children can truly “take in.”

By the time we were in third grade, my philosophy was shifting drastically. I began realizing that there were many things that required a depth of faith he didn’t have (at age 6, or 7, or 8, etc.) to bring to the study of those types of books. I also made a shift away from Sonlight for this very reason. There is much more to reading than simply being able to read and comprehend! Maturity plays a huge role, and even mature kiddos need to grow up to really “take in” what they’re reading on a deeper level!

Books that would have been a joy for an older reader were just so-so for my son.

So, my next choice was to use Ambleside Online. We did years 3, 4, 5, and part of 6 in full. While we moved to a more Charlotte Mason approach with Ambleside, and the readings were less lengthy, we still ran into much maturity needed in the readings. Books that would have been a joy for an older reader, were so-so for my son. He used Ambleside on grade level and had no problems with the level of readings. However, in looking back, I can see now that reading books like the unabridged Robinson Crusoe as a 4th grader left less of a good impression than they would have left if my son were much older and more mature when he read them (both in age and in his faith).

My son brought a maturity to reading A Child’s History of the World when he was older that made a big difference in the depth of his understanding of it.

Through Ambleside, my son read A Child’s History of the World (again). What a difference in his understanding now that he had matured several years! Every light bulb in his mind was going off like crazy! He brought so much maturity to the reading, and it made a big difference in his understanding. He was making connections all over the place and his thought process was much, much deeper.

My son had an amazing year in CTC as a 7th grader, and his love for history and reading returned.

With this in mind, as I completed the writing of Creation to Christ (CTC) for my next oldest son, I chose to leave Ambleside and have my oldest son do CTC as a 7th grader. Even though technically the readings were “below” his level by a long shot…what an amazing year he had! He deepened his faith and love for the Lord through his first really Biblical tour through the ancient time period! He understood and enjoyed what he read so much more than he had with Sonlight or Ambleside. Blessedly, his love for history and reading returned.

As my son did RTR for 8th grader, I no longer thought he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience!

The following year I had him do Resurrection to Reformation (RTR) as an 8th grader. Again, I couldn’t believe how much the study deepened and matured his faith. It was a turning point in his education and a turning point in my thinking. No longer did I think that he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience. For the first time, I realized how much a mature faith meant to a study of a historical time period!

Combining just to combine is not worth it.

So in comparison, when we look at having your nearly 8 year-old, second grade son do CTC next year, in comparing it to the experience my 7th grade son had, you can imagine my hesitation in ever recommending that option. “Could” you do it, with a lot of tweaking? Probably. “Should” you do it? In my opinion, “could” and “should” are worlds apart, and I wouldn’t advise you to do it simply based on whether it “could” be done. Combining just to combine is not worth it.

Families combining children who are within the target age range of the guide do this quite successfully. 

What we discover time and again with HOD, is that those families who pull up a child who is outside of the age range of an HOD guide (simply for combining with an older sibling) often can only make it work in the younger guides. After that (usually by CTC) it becomes next to impossible to do this type of combining well. They eventually either end up splitting their kiddos  and moving the young child back down to a guide where he/she truly fits on his/her own, or they end up moving away from HOD. On the other hand, families combining kiddos who are actually within the target age range of the guide are able to do this quite successfully.

When you ask us about combining, we are being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work well for you for the long haul!

So, it is not that we don’t recommend combining, but rather that we don’t recommend combining kiddos outside of the age range of the guide. In all honesty, we are looking toward the future and being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work for you well for the long haul! The wonderful thing about posing your combining question here is that when we advise you, we are looking down the road to the “graduation from high school” finishing line with HOD. The advice we’re giving you is to keep you from burning up your HOD options and leaving you in a pickle!

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to grow your younger son into an upper guide just for combining’s sake.

Simply listening in to an older child’s reading is by no means the same as actually “doing” everything that goes with those readings. Pulling a child back a guide is hard to do, and allowing a young one to hear everything an older sibling is reading (without doing any of the skills involved in those readings) is just stealing your thunder for the future when your younger child gets there. Spiritual maturity and depth of faith play a huge role in the appropriateness of historical subject matter. I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to grow your young one into an upper guide just for combining’s sake. He will get there sooner than you’d like already. So, I’d not rock the boat by combining; rather, I’d keep on with your smooth sailing and enjoy the trip!



PS: Here are some threads to ponder as well:
Why don’t you recommend having children younger than the target age range of the HOD guide simply listen in with the older student’s guide?

What would my child be missing out on if I did choose to combine him/her in a guide that doesn’t fit him/her well on the placement chart?

How will we be learning as a family if we do separate guides?

We’re missionaries, and we need help deciding when to homeschool!

Dear Carrie

Missionaries Needing Help on Deciding When to Homeschool

I have 5 kids, and we’re missionaries in Indonesia. We’ve used Heart of Dakota (HOD) for two years. This year, my oldest two are being taught at our missionary school. I convinced the missionary school to use HOD, and they love it! Next year mid-June, I’ll be homeschooling all my kids again (then in 7th, 6th, 4th, and two in 1st). My older two place in Revival to Revolution. The fourth grader places in Preparing, and my 1st graders place in Beyond. The older two are largely independent, which really helps! However, we’re going to be on furlough for three months, traveling all of September, settled for October, and traveling all of November. Maybe I could homeschool for the summer months, and the months we aren’t on the road? Then, I could take off the months we are on the road? What do you think would be best?


“Ms. Please Help This Missionary with Choosing When to Homeschool”

Dear “Ms. Please Help This Missionary with Choosing When to Homeschool,”

We feel so blessed to have many missionaries using Heart of Dakota, and I’d be glad to answer your question! I would probably lean toward taking the months off that you are traveling, which sounds like all of September and all of November. I would look at doing school during October, which sounds like it will be the month you will be more settled. With that in mind, I would look toward schooling in the summer for two months to make up for having all of September and all of November off. Hopefully, this would still allow you to take at least a month off in the summer.

If needed during the summer, you could go half-speed with the 1st grade twins (doing the left side of the guide one day and right side the next, or any combination you felt would work well). You could actually just keep the twins at half-speed for as long as needed during the year too (since they will be on the younger age range of Beyond). This would allow you more time to work with your Preparing and Revival to Revolution kiddos to get them started and progressing well.

Hopefully, this will help a bit as you ponder your scheduling options as missionaries. I just want to encourage you that we have had other missionaries use this same kind of scheduling and truly enjoy it! Sometimes it just helps to talk options through with others to find the one that will work well for you.